Whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to get more money at the job you’ve got, just starting the conversation can be a challenge. And while it’s one thing for a mogul to advise you to Lean In or be a #GIRLBOSS, it’s another to hear from regular women about what’s worked for them.
We spoke to 12 professionals from a variety of fields about their tricks for negotiating salaries, raises, and moves. Here’s what they had to say.
1. “The biggest mistake that young women make in the workplace, I think, is going into our first job totally afraid of negotiation, and totally unaware of what we are worth. Part of it is the economy, and the competitiveness that comes with getting our foot in the door, but I do believe that we are socialized all through our education to be less sure about things than the men who are interviewing for these same jobs.
“And the thing about not negotiating at our first job is that it starts us on a salary that is just never going to be competitive. If you settle for 20 percent less than you are worth, it will likely take you three years’ worth of raises to catch up, and you will essentially have to change jobs pretty quickly to stay competitive for your position. Research the market exhaustively and take people who have jobs similar to what you’d like out to coffee. Find out all you can about the industry, and use Glassdoor liberally. Don’t settle on the first number you see, or the first job that gives you a second interview. Just because it’s your first position doesn’t mean you should give up all your power, because if you do, you’ll be paying for it for years to come.” —Sophia, Engineering
2. “Whenever I am negotiating for something with an employer, I make sure to find a time when they are in the best mood and energy level possible. Pay close attention to what your boss is doing, what they have on the horizon, and how stressed they are. If you can access their calendar (our company calendars are all available to one another), find a time with nothing big planned. Schedule something far in advance (two weeks or so) so they have time to plan ahead for it mentally, and don’t feel like it’s being sprung on them. And if you notice that your boss is in a very bad mood in the days leading up to it, reschedule. So much of what you can get financially depends on how someone feels in the moment — it could be the difference of a few thousand dollars, just because the person deciding was having a good time at home and had a vacation coming up. Never ask something of someone who isn’t happy.” —Olivia, Pharmaceuticals
3. “I just remind myself that people can always say no to what I want, but it’s my responsibility to ask. I’m not allowed to be unhappy about something if I haven’t let it be known, respectfully, that I want things to be different. It relaxes me enough to ask because the pressure isn’t on me, it’s on the person who needs to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but either way, I’m doing what I need to do.” —Ali, Production
4. “I think I have struggled with asking for more. I once worked with a company above and beyond my position for three years and never saw that effort reflected in increased pay or bonuses. It took a lot of courage to talk to my supervisor about it, but that turned into a frank discussion about the company and its ability to offer raises that shed a lot of light on the workplace. I was able to use that conversation and make an informed decision about moving on that my supervisor understood, which has benefited my career goals immensely in the long run. Asking to be recognized by your employer with a raise doesn’t always lead to rejection; sometimes it leads to an actual raise. Be courageous! Go out there and get it!” —Nadia, Public Policy
5. “Come prepared with a list of how much you have contributed to the company. Use metrics if they are available, since numbers tend to light up the face of a boss. But, perhaps most important in a discussion about a higher wage, explain what you will do once you are in an elevated position (meaning: being paid more). Come with a list of added responsibility, as well as a list of the responsibility you had taken on before it was asked of you.
“That initiative will make you an even more worthwhile employee. Do not come to the discussion with a chip on your shoulder about how lousy you’ve been paid in the past and how much you deserve more. Prove you are deserving of whatever you are asking by backing it up with a self-assessment, as well as a future plan for how much value you can bring to the company.” —Chloe, Human Resources
6. “Remember that salary is a huge part of compensation, but it’s not the only part. A few years ago, I was with a company that was going through a tightening-its-belt phase, and raises were just not an option that year. I went to my boss and made the case that I was at a point where I believed I had earned a raise, but loved the company and enjoyed my work to the point that I wanted to find a compromise. I proposed that I start working from home two days a week, and that we would revisit the raise that Christmas. He agreed, and nine months later, I had my raise (and my more flexible schedule, to boot).
“Sometimes you might take more vacation time, or a better work-life balance, over a pure number. This isn’t always a perfect solution, but it’s another way to think about how we are being paid for a job. Being able to stay home cut down on my child-care costs and increased my quality of life, and to me, that was just as satisfying as a raise. But if I hadn’t thought to ask for it, I would never have gotten it.” —LeAnn, Consulting
7. “It is so important to walk into a meeting, interview, or negotiating process knowing: (1) what your skill level is worth, (2) what you need to make based on career goals/lifestyle/living expenses, and (3) what this position pays in a competitive market. When someone asks you what your salary requirements are, you shouldn’t hesitate to let them know what you think you are worth. I know that I personally have been hesitant to throw solid salary numbers out in the past — worried they would turn employers off to me (hang-ups about being a bold, young professional woman and all the accompanying stereotypes are powerful!). I have learned that if you do your research, the feeling you get when you put a number out for negotiation is pretty solid, not to mention backed by actual information, so you don’t feel super-nervous and the company isn’t going to be freaked out because you pulled a number out of nowhere.” —Jackie, Urban Planning
8. “One thing I wish someone had told me is that you are not obligated to tell the truth when another company approaches you about a job. They asked ‘What are you currently earning?’ and ‘What would you need to leave?’ and I had no idea about Glassdoor, or even just asking around in the industry. When it happened to me, I told them my salary exactly, and got a 10 percent bump from what I was getting. I only realized months later that it was below what my co-workers were earning, and that I would basically have to move again to get to where I should be. I could have told them 15 percent higher than what I was earning (they’re not going to cross-check with your current boss), and I would have gotten it.” —Anna, Journalism
9. “I bargained for my new salary against my previous one, but right before joining [my current company], I had a year-end review that increased my salary and bonus. At that time, I had already settled on a number with [my new boss], so I negotiated with him a second time based on the new salary.
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to be confident in what you do. It’s taken me a while to figure out that I have a skill set that’s not very common in this industry, and that I can absolutely leverage that during negotiations.” —Cara, Technology
10. “Ask for a meeting ahead of time and get something on the books. Walk into the meeting, have notes prepared about what you’re asking for, why you deserve it, how much, and a clear timeline. Try not to base your reasoning solely on the length of time you’ve been at the company. Be prepared to talk through a few highlight accomplishments, leadership roles you’ve assumed, extra work you’ve taken on, etc. Timing isn’t always enough of a reason to give someone a raise, unfortunately.” —Elle, PR
11. “This is optional, but something that played in my favor — my company ended up offering me a higher raise than what I initially was hoping for, I believe in part because I put together a deck outlining my biggest accomplishments, complete proof of personal success within the company, areas I’ve improved upon over the course of the year after each review to demonstrate growth, as well as where I’d like to grow in the company. The visual aspect showed them that valued myself, I was proud of my work, and I was willing to go the extra mile for what I wanted.” —Lara, Communications
12. “The most important thing, in my opinion, is knowing when you may need to walk, and being okay with it. I went into a lot of negotiations halfheartedly in my 20s because, even though I wasn’t happy — or being fairly compensated — at my job, I was too afraid and wishy-washy to actually leave. Getting comfortable at a job can be like quicksand, and can prevent you from having the guts to argue for yourself the way you should, or walk when your needs aren’t being met. (A boss can usually tell when you are bluffing and going to settle for less.)
“When I got offered a new job with a salary that was nearly 20 percent above what I was earning, and I put in my notice, suddenly my boss was ready to negotiate like never before. He even offered to match, but at that point, I was already out the door. If I had had that kind of confidence and conviction three years earlier, I wouldn’t have spent all that time earning way less than what I deserved.” —Marie, Marketing